Last week I didn’t do a new article because we were at ACPA in St. Louis and quite frankly, I just didn’t have the capacity to do one. But one of the things we gave out at ACPA was information on ways to increase Your Daily Self Care in 5 Minutes or Less. Given how stressed we all are, I thought I’d adapt it.
So let’s jump right in…
Take Brain Breaks
Your brain can only concentrate for 90 minutes at a time. Then it resets. That happens whether you give it a break or not. You trying to push through, means you're exerting a lot of energy without getting much in return. It's better to take a 5-minute break to allow it to properly reset. If you do, you'll actually be faster and more productive when you get back to work.
For those of you with Executing Talents like Achiever, Responsibility, etc., may find this hard to believe. After all breaks can feel like wasted time, but because of how your brain works it’s not a waste at all. It’s literally going to make you better at all of the doing. I did this one first because the following suggestions are all great suggestions for those important brain breaks.
Go for a Walk
Sitting all day isn't good for your mind or body. Get up and get moving. Yes, even a short 5-minute walk allows you to reset and get your blood moving. You can set an alarm to remind you. You can develop a habit of taking that short walk in between meetings or after you finish a task. If you’re meeting one on one, can you turn it into a walking meeting? And if you’re thinking, sure a walk in between meetings sounds great, but they always run long, let’s jump into another great self-care habit…
Leave Meetings on Time
Meetings aren't hostage situations. Sure, sometimes it's an emergency and you need to stay until the problem is resolved, but if people just don’t know how to facilitate a meeting in the allotted time, why should that throw your entire day off? You agreed to attend for a specified time, not forever. Oh and if you’re the one leading the meeting, learn how to facilitate them so they’re done on time or early.
When it’s time to go – and again I’m suggesting adding in a five-minute buffer so you can fit in a brain break – quietly gather your things, get up, and excuse yourself. Let them know you have to go to get to and/or prepare for your next appointment, even if that appointment is you having lunch on time. If you’re on Zoom, thank everyone and put it in the chat that you’re stepping out.
And if you’re worried people are going to judge you, say “I have a student issue I need to take care of” or “I have a student waiting for me.” I can guarantee very few people even question that, especially if your institution has any sort of student first mentality. Now I’m not advocating lying, but realistically isn’t the next thing on your plate about helping students? Yes, there may be a few meetings this won’t work for, but if you’re having back-to-back-to-back meetings, it will for 90% of them.
Take a Lunch Break
You need a break. You need to make sure you nourish yourself so you have the energy you need to have a productive afternoon. Skipping lunch to work doesn't make you more productive. It actually prevents you from being your best and doing your best. Remember, your brain is going to reset every 90 minutes anyway, you might as well use it to get something to eat, even if it's only for 5-minutes. That being said, for those of you who need to hear it, I hereby give you permission to take a proper 30 or even 60-minute lunch break to really let yourself recharge.
Turn Off Your Notifications
Constant interruptions keep you from being productive. A University of California study found that after each interruption it takes over 23 minutes for your brain to refocus. If you get an email or text every 5 or 10 minutes, that means you’re never really focused on anything. If you can’t focus, it’s going to take you longer to get through that giant pile of work on your desk. Since the work never stops, that's added stress you don't need. If you're worried about missing something urgent, talk with your department about developing a tiered communication system for emergencies that doesn't rely on an email or text.
Close Your Door
You know that open door policy you have? Close it. Open door policies seem like a good idea, right? I mean you want to build trust with the people you supervise and keep the lines of communication open. Those are absolutely important, but ODP's bring constant interruptions, often with questions or problems that your team should be empowered to figure out themselves. And remember that study I just mentioned – 23 minutes to refocus your brain on what you’re trying to do. Being interrupted by your team means both they and you are losing focus over and over again. Instead, schedule regular 1:1 meetings with your team to build trust and maintain clear communication. Establish criteria for emergency situations that truly need to be addressed now.
Most of us have no idea how to set boundaries. But we need boundaries to bring out our best selves. Boundaries protect us from wasting our valuable energy on things that don’t help us achieve our goals, including our own sense of wellbeing. Do things like leaving meetings to stay on schedule, eating lunch, taking walks, etc. are important boundaries to set and keep. When a person or process is getting in the way of you being your best self, assess and change it. Remember, when you're at your best, you have better relationships and better outcomes for yourself, your team, and your students.
Take 5 minutes at the beginning of your day to prioritize your three most important tasks or projects. When we don’t prioritize, we’re wasting our energy on things that may not need to be done – at least not now. Why do you only get to pick three things? Because when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Our brains and our teams need priorities to work effectively.
I recently did an article titled, The Freedom of the Impossible. In that episode, I say what most of you already know on some level – the amount of work being asked of you is impossible to get done. Stop asking “how can I get all of this done?” Instead, ask “what’s the most important things I can do?” and prioritize those.
Okay, so lastly let’s talk about mediation. There's a growing body of literature on the benefits of meditation. It can help you refocus, reenergize, and get you out of fight or flight. The problem is it can seem intimidating. I mean don’t you have to be in your yoga clothes and sitting next to your bamboo fountain for it to be effective? Absolutely not. Even if you've never meditated before, no worries. There are tons of meditation apps out there that have guided meditations. All you have to do is listen and follow the prompts. You can even pick how long they are...even just five minutes.
Okay, so those are nine ways to work in self-care in very short periods of time. Daily maintenance is way more beneficial than fitting in a massage once a month. Remember, taking better care of yourself doesn’t have to take much time, it just takes you being committed to making it happen. Get a self-care buddy, put it in your calendar, leave yourself post its to remind you to do it. Do whatever you need to remind yourself to do it. It will improve your overall wellbeing AND your productivity. Win-win.